Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Power of Arbitrary Numbers

Ever put your hand in ice water?   It can be painful, enough so that Mythbusters used keeping a hand in ice water as their test for ability toresist pain.  We’ve given people the chance to do this as part of a kayak safety symposium, known as Paddlesmart.

   We called it the ice bucket.  It was a simple design.  A bucket of water had ice added to it to bring the temperature to about 45 degrees, which is about the temperature of the Gulf of Maine in May.  Volunteers placed their hand flat against the bottom, fingers spread, and keep it there as long as they could.  
   Throughout the evening, the water temperature was monitored.  As the ice in the bucket melted, water was removed and more ice is added to keep the temperature constant.

The first year we did this it became a contest between two people, an young adult male and an adult woman.  The male was very thin, he set a good time at first, but the woman bested him.  So he came back and tried again.  She bested him again. By the end of the evening, the young man struggled to set a new record.   He used his right hand to hold the left down, moaned and practically fell to the floor.    

Watching him go through all that, we decided he was the winner and closed the table.
The very sophisticated ice bucket sits beside the interactive activities table, you can see the thermometer on the table and the sensor wire going into the bucket

   The next year, in an effort to keep things calmer and prevent someone accidentally hurting themselves, we installed a time limit:  3 minutes.   Anyone who could keep their hand still on the bottom of the bucket for 3 minutes had their name put on the wall of fame.  (And we also noted that if they paddle in spring, they really should be prepared to get back into their boat within that time.)  At the end of the evening there were  17 names on the board.  Many of them were girl scouts hosting a nearby refreshment table who cheered each other on, applauding as each minute milestone was met.  About one-third of the people that attempted the ice bucket wound up with their names on the wall.  And no one looked like they were ready to collapse at the end.

   Limiting the time was really good I thought, as I packed the equipment away.  I was sure it was a good thing we didn’t do it as long as we’d done it the year before.  Until, at the bottom of the storage box, I happened on a scrap of paper with the times from the previous year.  And the winning time, the time which had caused that young man so much suffering?  Three minutes and 2 seconds.  All the other times on the list were much shorter, 30 seconds or so.

   Merely listing a concrete goal made the whole experience more bearable.   Plus, every time a name went up on the wall it was proof it was possible. Remember this as you make your plans for the New Year!

Florida: a few other sources

A few other folks who wrote in about places to paddle in Florida:

Baffinpaddler noted that she too had tried a mangrove trail and found it claustrophobic.  The trails can be tight, though it's also true that not all mangrove trails are the same size.  The first part of the Woolverton in Placida was quite narrow, but the trail from the lagoon back to the bay was wider, as were the trails in Sanibel.  She recommended paddling in Cockroach Bay, near Tampa.  She's paddled there with Big D's Kayaks
          Cockroach Bay, Tampa Bay Florida - Kayaking with Dolphins and Manatees
          Mangroves, Caladesi Island, Barrier Islands, Tampa Bay Florida

Rob Allen, Kayaking Michigen was also recently in Florida:  He went on a Mangrove Tour in Palmetto and on the Little Manatee River in Wimauma

Sarah of Sarah's Soggy Scenarios recommended paddling in the Everglades.  I didn't see any posts for those paddles on her blog, but I did find that Places We've Kayaked had a post about renting kayaks in the Everglades.

 I also wanted to mention a few places we've gone to on prior trips.  Just before Thanksgiving 2003, we rented kayaks and canoes from Canoe Escape and paddled on the Hillsborough River, east of Tampa.  It was a wonderful trip for spotting ibis, herons, vultures and especially alligators.

In 2009, in addition to paddling at King's Bay, we rented kayaks from Riversport Kayaks to explore the Homosassa River, home to an island of monkeys.

But of all our rentals and trips, the best has been the Ozello Paddle with Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company.  It is rare to have such wonderful gear and such a talented guide.

Then there are those kayakers lucky enough to bring their own boats to Florida including:
    Dave's Yak Tales:  He lives in Florida and is out paddling regularly
   Sea Kayak Stonington who paddled the length of the Keys in 2011 and the Everglades in 2010

Finally a guide to Florida:  Paddlers Guide to the Sunshine State, by Sandy Huff, 200, University Press of Florida.  We used this in 2009, but did not pack it this time, since it does not cover Sanibel Island.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Penobscot!

Heavy rain and above freezing temperatures cleared the ice from the Penobscot so we could sneak in one more paddle.

And look, the river has a present for me:
Can you find Mark?

Who knew Old Navy made a glittery soccer ball?

And it matches my paddle!

Thanks Penobscot!
Merry Christmas and Safe Paddles to you all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Florida: Ozello with Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company

    When we decided to drive north to Crystal River, my first thought was, this time we're going to have a real adventure, this time we'll call ahead to Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company to arrange a tour.

  What I like about Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company are the quality of boats they offer and the respect they have for wildlife.  Check out their policy on manatees.  What makes things hard is they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

  So, it was Wednesday morning when we met with Matt to drive to Ozello.  Ozello is an unincorporated town on the gulf coast.  We'd be exploring a shallow bay and various mangrove islands.  Much of the land, and many of the islands are a part of the Crystal River State Park Preserve.

   The road to Ozello is a small and twisty offering occasional glimpses of water.  Single ornaments were hung on various trees along the route, as if a seasonal Hansel and Gretel had marked the trail to safely return home.  More impressive, if less seasonal, was the presence of Roseate Spoonbills in one of the marshes. 

   Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company has a variety of kayaks for rent, we  requested touring boats.  I had an Eddyline Fathom, Matt the Eddyline Raven and Mark the Eddyline Nighthawk.  Paddles were a choice of Bending Branches or H2O's.  Mark used his Northern Light Paddle.

  We were exploring in the last hour of an ebbing tide, and I was worried that might mean we'd be slogging through shallow water.  And if we were there on our own,  we'd have grounded out a lot.  But Matt knows those waters and was easily able to pick out the deeper channels.  He likes going out at low tide because it concentrates the larger animals to the deep channels and makes sightings more likely.  It also gives us a better shot of seeing turtles, seastars and other undersea life.
  Unfortunately the skies were gray so undersea viewing was limited.  On the plus side, skies were gray and the day was cool, making it ideal for paddling a swift kayak.

   We had just a spot of sunlight, which allowed me to see this orange sponge amidst the Sargasso seaweed, but not to get a great shot.

   We were hanging around Bird Key when Matt spotted a distant flash he identified as dolphin.  A half mile later we came upon a dolphin fishing in the shallows.  Dolphins use various techniques to fish, the methods change by region.  Matt was planning a trip to see where dolphins threw themselves on land to catch fish.  In the Crystal River area dolphins often herd fish into dead ends or use tail strikes to stun fish.  Initially he thought that's what this dolphin was doing, but on closer observation, and spotting the pectoral fins, he thought perhaps the dolphin was just swimming sideways and using its tail to drive it into the seagrass to catch fish hiding there.
Dolphin with blowhole surfacing

   We observed the dolphin for awhile, at one point the dolphin surfaced and eyed the kayaks, before moving a short distance away to continue eating.
I like the juxtaposition of the dolphin against the distant power plant
   From the dolphin we moved just a short distance before spotting dark lumps on the surface.  At first we thought it was a manatee.  Turns out it is was several, all hanging out together.  This would have been a great time for the sun to magically appear, but apparently that's beyond Matt's powers.  And I see now, that after taking hundreds of pictures of one dolphin, we apparently took none of a herd of manatees.  But they were there and their moist exhalings are etched in my memory.
Dolphin again, this time the pectoral fin
  Matt has lived in Florida for most of his life.  When he first came to Ozello, the islands were grass covered.  Over time red, then black, mangroves have overgrown the islands.  As with much of Florida, the islands were originally slated for development, fortunately the State of Florida was able to acquire them.  Now, Matt is seeing the water level in the bay rise and pointed out Palm Trees which were dying as a result.  Because Matt has been in the area decades, there's a special depth that comes through all his talk, and that was clearly evident that morning.  For more about Matt and Susan Clemons, co-owners of Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company check here
Matt talking about an island
   I enjoyed the Fathom, I found it fast and comfortable to sit in for a couple hours.  I can't say I really tested it though.  (I think partially because I am still in winter kayaking mode, where I don't lean or edge very much.)  Mark, on the other hand leaned the Nighthawk quite a bit.  he was pleased with the stability and ride, but wishes he also took a try with one of the other kayaks.  We meant to do that, but as we got out paddling, just forgot and had fun.
A tiny seastar
  Other wildlife sightings were lots of white and brown pelicans, terns, cormorants and other birds.  The coolest thing we saw was a red-tailed hawk attacking a royal tern.  The tern was casually flying along when the hawk sped out of a nearby island to strike it, just a few feet in front of us.  A second or two later the hawk realized it had over-estimated its skills; the tern fell to the water and took off, complaining bitterly, but seemingly unharmed. 
Just a few pelicans
  All in all it was an awesome tour.  We may not have gotten the best pictures on this tour, but we did have our best sightings and memories. We look forward to getting out with Matt or Susan again.
We launched from the white spot, the area is a maze of islands.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Florida: Paddling Adventure at Weeki Wachee

Two kayaks run into a bar....
   First thing to know about Paddling Adventures at Weeki Wachee; though they list their hours as 8 AM to 3 PM, you should look further down the webpage.  Below those first hours is a note: if you are renting their boats OR plan to use their shuttle you need to launch by 11:30AM.

  Unfortunately we learned this the hard way, Sunday at 1 PM.  On the plus side we got to see all sorts of kayaks being unloaded from their shuttle service.  Lots of fine looking kayaks take the Weeki Wachee express on the weekends.

  The Weeki Wachee River would be a fun place to bring beginning paddlers.  The water moves swiftly and easily carries the boats along.  Summer is their busiest season, when all 120 boats in their rental fleet will be in the stream.  There is no swimming in the first half mile after the launch.  I get the impression that after that first half mile many people use their kayaks as float toys for a four mile ride.  For the last mile, or so, depending on the tide, they may actually need to paddle. 

Which leads to tip two:  you might want to call ahead for reservations.
Midway, showing the current better
  Paddling Adventures offers canoes, sit on tops and sit insides.  We were given Old Town Vapors which were comfortable enough.  The front deck was a bit high, and my boat had a slow leak (the keel line showed many patches), but for a glide on a river, they were fine.
Sponging out the kayak
The Weeki Wachee river has the beautiful clear blue water Florida springs are known for.  The water was partially shaded by tall trees, though there were also sections of marsh grass.  It also has a plant which looked like a water lettuce growing off to the side.  I saw this particularly near the start, where the water was quite fast-moving. I assumed I'd see more of it later, when the water was slower and the pictures would therefore be in focus.  In fact, I thought I'd see manatees chowing down on this water lettuce and get amazing shots.
Blue heron
  Turns out I didn't see the plant further down.  Also, manatees eat mostly sea grass, though they will eat random plants in their environment and even small invertebrates.  (I swear - at the Homosassas Spring State Wildlife Park the manatees are fed lettuce)  Finally, if it was water lettuce, Florida considers it an invasive weed plant.
Manatees hanging out in a pool
  We did see a couple of manatee hanging out further down stream, lounging off to the side.  By then, the forest lined stream had given way to houses and cottages. 
A cool house below Rogers Park
   We launched at 9:30AM.  It's five and a half miles to the pick up point, and wasn't quite warm enough for swimming. So we arrived at the end point, Rogers Park, well before the first return shuttle was scheduled (noon). Wanting to explore more so we continued on through the development until we happened on coastal marsh.  We were still a mile or so from the gulf, but making it to the grass and palm tree eco-system felt like a good accomplishment.
Coming into the marsh area
   Along our trip we met a few other paddles, all heading up from Rogers Park, four paddlers in wood strip canoes and one paddler in an nckayak.  We'd seen the nckayaker early on, charging up the Weeki Wachee.  And shortly after we returned to Rogers Park to await our shuttle, he paddled in. He'd paddled 11 miles that morning.  Mark helped him load his sparkling green kayak onto his car and they compared break-apart Greenland paddles.  Rogers Park is a very bland park; a dusty lot with a small swimming area, boat launch and restrooms.  However, paddling up the Weeki Wachee River and gliding back down seems like a great way to start any day.
A canoe heading up stream
Kind of a chart with two happy paddlers in front

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Florida: Crystal River - Kings Bay

 Kings Bay is hardly a pristine wilderness.  The shoreline has been reshaped and extended to create access canals.  About half the shoreline is cement wall.  And if every available lot doesn't have a house or hotel on it, it probably will soon.
A more developed shore
   Kings Bay is rarely empty: motor boats, kayaks, paddle boards and boat-loads of snorkelers fill the bay.   Their quest:  the  West Indian Manatee.  In cold weather Manatees need warm water, such as is provided by springs in King's Bay.  Thirty springs, pump almost 1000 cubic feet per second of 72 degree water into the bay.
   Not just manatees are found in the area.  There are fish, birds and much more.  On an evening visit in 2010,  we watched a dolphin corralling mullet into a dead end canal by Hunter Springs Park.  In 2009, while paddling Buzzard Island we happened on a raccoon digging for shellfish.  But mostly people come for the manatees.

   Despite all the love people have for manatees, they need privacy and protection.  Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge owns most of the islands in the bay, and significant land along Crystal River (connecting King's Bay to the Gulf.)  Crystal River State Park also owns large amounts of land in the area.    The Refuge marks several springs and stretches of water for manatee access only. 
An anhinga uses a sailboat as a resting perch
I like Kings Bay because of its size and scale.  It's about ten miles around the bay, but broken up with islands and inlets.  It's a great area for puttering.  There are at least two parks you can stop at and at least one ice cream stand.

We started out our paddle at Kayaks and Beyond's rental location and store.  They have a variety of kayaks - our favorites are the Delta 14s.  These are ruddered boats, but have firm foot pegs. They're a nice solid boat for the area.
Mark creating another GP convert at the Kayaks and Beyond launch
 Kayak and Beyond is the closest launch to  Three Sister's Spring.  Last time we visited King's Bay  many people were working to preserve Three Sisters Spring.  Good news - it's now owned by the National Wildlife Refuge.  The rules for visiting the Springs are different now: no disposable items can be brought in and kayaks may enter, but you can not get out of your kayak while visiting the springs (although you may swim in from the outside.)
Heading into Three Sisters
I love visiting the Springs because it is a rare undeveloped area,  The water coming from the springs is so clear, it's hard to believe the springs are deep enough to hold a tree trunk.  But they do, without the trunk breaking the surface  We paddled in and looked about and decided against swimming.  These springs are supposed to be a big manatee area, but we didn't see any.  What we did see was snorkelers already exploring the area.

From there is was about the bay.  None of the islands may be landed on EVER, and between November and March certain areas near the islands are marked as off limits.  In lieu of an island there is a manatee observation boat to visit.    Because of recent warm weather, fewer manatees were in the bay than had been there a few weeks earlier.  But we still spotted several.
Gracefully climbing on to the viewing platform
Lots of birds:  eagles, egrets, wood storks, brown pelicans, anhingas, buzzards, coots, ibis and pelicans.
Wood Storks
 This osprey is bathing itself.  We also saw an osprey do this in Placida.  It must be osprey bathing month

For lunch we stopped at Hunter's Spring Park; where there are picnic tables and restrooms.  That's where we spotted this:

At first I took it to just be a buoy showing the current.  Kings Bay has about an 18 inch tidal range, but certain areas get more current from nearby springs.    But no, it was a tagged manatee.  We were able to capture these  shots above and below water while standing on the stairs in Hunter Springs Park. 

Kings Bay has its struggles.  As you might suspect, heavy population and usage is damaging water quality.  But it is still amazing and a wonderful place to explore by kayak.
Boats lined up at Three Sisters entrance

Hunter Springs Park is on NE 1st Avenue, Crystal Springs.
Ibis at Hunter Springs Park
This last photo, is of two manatees swimming away from Three Sisters Spring.  It was taken one evening from the bridge on  SE Kings Bay Road.  Just after the bridge is a pullout for two or three cars. 

Resources and References:
Kayak Rentals:  Kayaks and BeyondAardvark's Florida Kayak Tours (spoiler alert - we will use them for a custom tour in a post or two)  
This pamphlet has a chart of Kings Bay and shows off limits areas
Boat Launches King's Bay, Crystal River{F3937449-7ED3-4687-8F25-E692B2D9309E}
Area Parks:{607CC37E-4964-4967-8E36-1FC827923F13}
Kings River Fact Sheet
  Save the Three Sisters Spring
  Struggles to keep King's Bay clear
We also enjoy the Eco Walk at the Crystal River State Park Preserve.  We've spotted deer, feral pigs, armadillo and more while on their trails.
This picture is from last time, this time we paddled further, but much the same route

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sanibel: "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

 We arrived in Sanibel an hour before their annual Luminary Festival, for which Periwinkle Way is lined with luminaries and light displays.

   We settled into a efficiency room at Shalimar Cottages and Motel.  Our room had a small kitchen, a huge bed and a screened porch on which we could watch the sunset on the beach.  This is not our normal accommodations, but at off season rates, we could pretend it was.
Porch view just after sunset
  An evening stroll along a shell strewn beach, a quick tour of some of the luminary displays, a late dinner all made for a grand introduction to Sanibel.

   In the morning we went to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and rented kayaks from Tarpon Bay Explorers.

   "You're the third person to show up with a Greenland paddle this morning." the outfitter told us, "There were two others here before you."

    "So are they out on the trail?" Mark asked.

   "Nah, they were headed out of the bay.  But you can't take the rental boats there, they have to stay in the bay or on the trail."
Ruddy turnstones waiting to take a boat out

   There were a lot of "don't"s - Don't take the boats out of Tarpon Bay, don't land on any islands, don't enter the mangrove maze at the far end if you don't have a GPS. ("We got tired of launching search and rescues.")  Mark packed a GPS, but it refused to work, so we crossed that area off our list.
On the bay
   Tarpon Bay Explorers offers single or double kayaks, but they are the same boats, just with one or two people inside.  Most of the kayaks were Acadias, but the Greenland Paddle, or perhaps our sizes, led him to pull two Loon 160's for Mark and I.  "These are the guide boats," he explained.  (Later we did see a guided group and the guide was in a Loon 160.)
The trail is well marked, note the wire used to keep birds off
   We followed the other paddlers in exploring the Commodore Trail through the mangroves.
Mangrove trees nicely reflected
  There we found very accommodating  calm birds to photograph, other explorers and an array of tiny (1") to mid-sized (4") sea stars.  The trail was wide and high, a pleasant shady place to paddle.
Yellow Capped Night Heron

  Afterwards,  we explored the bay for awhile.  The bay is where dolphins and manatees are frequently spotted.  We didn't see any though, and as the temperatures rose to the 80's, I was ready for a break from the sun.  I had hoped the Loons would handle like our Palmico, but they seemed wider and slower.  The front seat didn't fasten in place (maybe because it was a rental?) so as I used my legs while paddling the seat moved back little by little until I needed to scootch it forward again.

   We arrived back at the launch, and met the Greenland Paddlers, a couple from North Carolina, who summered in Maine.  We talked for quite awhile, comparing destinations, paddles and boats, before heading our separate ways.
Little Blue Heron on Wildlife Drive
  Later we explored Wildlife Drive, which I hear is a great place to launch.  Certainly it is a wonderful place for spotting wildlife.
View from a platform along the drive.  Ibis in flight, a barely visible rainbow
   We also checked out two other rental agencies, both on nearby Captiva.  Adventure Sea Kayak and Captiva Kayak and Wildside Adventures.  Both offered rentals of true sea kayaks, but both had a restricted rental paddling area; basically a bay and a trail through the mangrove island.  Adventure Sea Kayak had many Wilderness System ruddered models, Capitva Kayak Company had Current Design kayaks with skegs.  Both also had other boats, but I only remember the ones we were considering.
A royal tern on the beach in the morning.  Be sure to take morning strolls on the beach as well, so many birds then!
   We had a wonderful sunset dinner in our room, another stroll on the beach, but we were ready to go.  The heat and sun was too much, there were too few hours when I felt like moving.  When we'd planned our trip, we thought we'd stay in Sanibel; spend a day biking, try all the kayak rentals.  If we got bored,  we planned to go south to the Everglades, a place I'd never been.  But feeling a bit burned, we reversed course.  On Sunday we'd drive north four hours to Crystal River and King's Bay.  There, even if the day was hot, area springs would create a cooler climate over the bay.